SpaceX employees have a lot to celebrate lately, what with their increasing launch schedule, improved ability to recover their rockets, and their now demonstrated capacity to reuse those recovered rockets. But as noted by Fortune, during a recent Skype call, one SpaceX employee threw a bit of shade at the company’s aerospace competitors, including virtually everyone from the Russians to the Europeans.
In this talk, founding employee of SpaceX Tom Mueller points out the absurdity of continuing to use throwaway rockets when reusable ones are now available – thanks to SpaceX. He particularly mentions United Launch Alliance, which provides the incredibly expensive, non-reusable rockets used by NASA and the government for so many purposes. As he put it, “The cost that the government cost-plus programs charge for their rockets is just ridiculous.”
Mueller goes on to point out that the naysayers and critics of SpaceX are now having to eat crow.
“We were ridiculed by the other big companies in the launch-vehicle business. At first they ignored us, and then they fought us, and then they found out they really couldn’t win in a fair fight because we were successful and were factors of two, three, or even five lower cost than what they could do. So then it becomes an unfair fight where they try to destroy you politically or use other means. And then, at some point, they figure out that they’ve got to do what you’re doing.”
Mueller proceeds to provide a biting critique of the company’s competitors around the world – except for Blue Origin – which as The Orlando Business Journal notes is also building a reusable rocket system.
“There’s a lot of talk from these other companies about how they’re going to make reusable [rockets]—recover the engines, recover the stages, come up with a much lower-cost rocket so they can compete. There’s no way that ULA would have considered buying engines from Blue Origin except for the pressure that SpaceX put on them.”
As Mueller continues, he gives the French and the Russians both barrels as well.
“There’s no way that the French would have quickly abandoned the Ariane 5 and moved to the Ariane 6 design except for the pressure we’re putting on them… The Russians are now saying that they’re going to come up with a rocket that can beat SpaceX, which is entertaining because they’ve been working on their Angara for 22 years and have launched it once. Suddenly they’re going to come up with a low-cost one.”
Mueller also criticizes the excessive price of NASA’s currently under construction Space Launch System, which is going to cost billions of dollars but not be reusable.
“If your rocket costs a billion dollars, even if you use it 100 times, it’s still going to be very expensive to use. So we set out to build low-cost rockets from the very beginning.”
While some businesses might decide they were going to sue Mueller and SpaceX for criticizing them in this way, the problem would be that all of his critiques are entirely accurate. Worse, SpaceX’s competitors all know this. It’s one of the principal reasons why aerospace companies like ULA sometimes don’t even bother offering a competing bid against SpaceX when it comes to government contracts.
Just as the pony express, the telegraph and the steam engine eventually gave way to superior technologies, the simple fact is that Elon Musk and his pioneering SpaceX Corporation are revolutionizing space transportation right now, and this revolution will inevitably continue into the future. Expendable rockets are simply going to become an unaffordable luxury of the past. And making the shift will open the way to frequent, inexpensive, and reliable manned space travel into the solar system.
[Featured Image by NASA via Getty Images]